Speak Up: Learning How to Properly Answer Interview Questions

You’ve sent in your resume and received the call scheduling your interview. Chances are, you’re pretty excited about the interview, but also nervous about the meeting. The interview is a make-or-break instance that thoroughly increases or decreases your chance of getting the job.

Not everyone is a pro at speaking during an interview or important meeting. For some, it’s difficult to even talk on the phone with a stranger. If you have issues speaking up or are nervous about the interview, don’t worry! You’re not alone.

Learning how to speak up and properly answer questions not only makes you look more professional, it also shows confidence and allows you to more thoroughly explain your skills and experience. Here are a couple of tips to practice for your next interview:

TIP 1: Write It All Down

There are a few standard interview questions that are almost always asked. These include questions about your strengths and weaknesses; an explanation of a time you went above and beyond for the company; and what your experiences are and what they can do for the company. Start by writing down your answers to these questions as thoroughly as possible. Get detailed. Think about the answers. Practice saying these answers over and over in your mirror, even though you may feel silly doing so. Take the paper with you to the interview if it will make you feel more comfortable; however, make sure it is a clean and presentable piece of paper with just the questions and answers on it.

TIP 2: Do Your Research

Researching the company and position you are applying for is incredibly advantageous – the hiring manager will be impressed by your detailed knowledge of how the company works, what products are offered and why you will be a great fit, as described by you. Being able to mention how you might fix something or do something better takes this even further. Take time and think about what experiences and qualities you have that will be a great benefit to the company.


As they say, practice makes perfect – practicing your interview answers is a simple and efficient way to help you ace your interview. When you are prepared for the questions and have thoroughly thought about your answers, and you have taken the time to evaluate your own valuable skill set, you will answer more precisely and with more confidence.

Interviewing Protocol: A Refresher on the Dos and Don’ts

While it’s something pounded into the minds of most jobseekers, the list of interview dos and don’ts is extensive and always worthy of re-mentioning. The interview is one of the single most important aspects on landing the position, second to your resume. The interview, whether a phone interview or in-person, gives recruiters and hiring managers their first true impressions of you. It’s the time when you can make or break an opportunity.


Dress professionally. Unprofessional attire, including your hairstyle and accessories, can lead an interviewer to the wrong conclusion (or right conclusion, depending on how you look at it). In short, dress to impress. This is your golden opportunity to shine. If you’re unsure of the business’ dress code or standard, kick it up a notch. A safe bet for most positions is a shirt and tie for gentlemen, slacks or a nice skirt and top for females. Wear closed-toe shoes and keep costume jewelry to a minimum (for many positions, but certainly not all).


Chew gum or bring in a drink. Chewing gum just prior to the interview is an ideal way to freshen breath, but be sure to dispose of it before you meet your interviewer. This goes for phone interviews, as well. Even if you’re not actively chewing the gum, there is a distinct difference in your annunciations and speaking when you have something in your mouth.


Listen intently to your interviewer and be sure you understand all of the questions. They have important questions for you and your answers could make or break your opportunity.


Interrupt your interviewer. Wait until he is done speaking to bring up any concerns or ask for further clarification. If you’re participating in a phone interview, never put the interviewer on hold or ask for them to “hold on for a moment.”


Bring your cell phone into an interview. There are some instances when a cell phone may be needed during an interview, particularly if you are going to be filling out paperwork and need specific information that is stored on your phone. If this is the case, ensure your phone is on silent (SILENT, turn off the vibration, too).


Remember the interviewer is a person, just like you, but one that is playing an integral part in your future. Smile, indulge in their small jokes (if they offer them) and be friendly, yet professional. This is a relationship-building procedure, even if you won’t have contact with the interviewer after you’ve received the position. This is your chance to show off your personality (professionally) to help you build a relationship with your potential employer.

The goal is to impress your interviewer and land the job. This means being professional throughout the entire duration of the interview, making eye contact, smiling and showing the interviewer that you have what it takes to be part of their team.

Body Language and Appearance

Both can quickly become friend or foe for interview day

You’ve gone over your talking points for the interview, tediously practicing the Q&A process with yourself in the mirror or, if you’re lucky, with a friend or loved one who is as anxious for you to get the job as you are. You’ve polished your resume one more time, making sure to cross your “t”s and dot your “i”s. You know your qualifications and you’re prepared to sell yourself to the employer. Finally, you’ve given yourself the “You can do it!!!!” speech so many times that it’s hard to believe that you might have not had it. You’re ready.

While you may have thought about what you’re going to wear and you’ve got the perfect outfit, make sure it’s appropriate. Depending on the job, a sleeveless blouse or opened-toe shoes might be seen as unprofessional. Keep the jewelry in check and try not to wear large statement pieces that take away from your personality. And guys, the same goes for a pair of khakis and a polo. To play it safe, wear something a step up from what you would wear to work every day. A classic blazer and A-line skirt is professional. Guys, try a classic suit, with or without the jacket depending on the job.

Now for body language. Your body language can speak volumes even while you’re quietly listening to the interviewer’s question. Here are a few tips to keep your body language professional during the interview:

  • Sit up and sit straight

○      Your posture is an important signal

  • Play copy-cat

○      Let the interviewer set the pace and tone for the interview and reciprocate by sharing his level of enthusiasm, tone and overall posture.

○      Speak at the same pace as your interviewer

■      According to Psychology Today, people respond better if you speak at their pace. Also try mimicking their movements, such as head nods and hand gestures, without being too obvious or awkward.

  • Gain eye contact

○      Eye contact is important in a conversation and shows that you’re truly listening and in touch with the interviewer.

  • Relax without slumping over in your chair

○      Being in a relaxed sitting position will help you truly relax during the interview while showing the interviewer that you are comfortable with the process

  • Keep a positive facial expression

○      Smile when appropriate and refrain from furrowing your brow, frowning or otherwise giving off a facial expression that may be misconstrued as disinterest or confusion

Both your appearance and body language during the interview can make or break the interviewer’s impression of you. After all, first impressions are among the most important and, while the job market has still failed to completely rebound, the first impression may be your only shot.

New Resume Trends vs the Basics

Today’s technologically savvy world requires a few twists on things we once considered the norm or status quo. Your resume is no different; there are a few basic “rules” that still apply while new trends are stepping in and merging with the “old way.”

Creating a resume is sometimes difficult, especially with the ultra-competitive job market. You know it needs to stand out without being falsified; it needs to be to-the-point while still showcasing your skills and achievements.

The standard resume rules (read that as required information) that still apply are as follows:

  • Contact Information

    • Make sure your email address is professional (your name is always a good start)

  • Work Experience

    • Highlight your work history including skills and achievements at each position

  • Education

    • Only if you have higher education or have taken classes outside of high school

  • Qualifications

    • Certificates you’ve achieved, past training

  • Achievements

    • Brag a little — if you’ve received any achievements or recognition, let it be known

  • Keywords

    • Buzzwords are all the rage and can be the deciding factor on whether or not your resume gets noticed. Some hiring managers rely on software that picks out keywords, so add them in. They will also stand out to the eye of a hiring manager that goes through resumes manually.

New Trends to Consider

Of course the basics are solid, time-tested and downright important; that being said, however, it may be time to take the next step as far as your resume is concerned. Show off your web skills and savvy by employing one — or more — of the following new trends:

  • Tweeting

    • Harness the power of the almighty tweet — but only if you have a Twitter account with a large number of followers AND you’re professional on your account (you use it more as a branding tool than a personal platform).

  • YouTube

    • Make a short, 1- to 2-minute professional video resume and upload it to YouTube. These videos give you a little edge — the employer gets to see you and get a feel for your personality.

  • Infographics

    • Jump on the infographics bandwagon and create a professional, colorful and efficient infographic that will stand out. If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire someone or skip it! A poorly created graphic will be an eyesore and turnoff to potential employers.

If you choose to employ the hot, tech-savvy trends, follow some of the basic rules of resume building: Target your resume to the job you’re after, be specific, and be ready to supply supporting facts to anything on there.


Analyzing Your Hire — The Official (or Unofficial) Probationary Period

After sifting through all the resumes, conducting dozens of interviews, and going through the turmoil of weighing the pros and cons of every candidate on your short list, you finally were able to make the decision of who is the best fit for your company. Even after all that, however, you aren’t done. The first few days, week, or even month of your chosen candidate’s employment is trying and is a probationary period.

The candidate had all the experience you were looking for, was able to maintain great eye contact during the interview process and even made you smile as you got to know her. She was perfect. However, starting a new job is a learning process for anyone and now it’s time to analyze your decision.

After your candidate has started his new position, the real learning begins. No matter what the position is — from running the cash register at your small business to being a lead account executive for a large firm — learning the ways of the new job, the ins and outs of the office politics and who to ask for help when it’s needed can be exciting, albeit stressful.

Now the analyzing begins, and here are a few behaviors to watch in your new employee:

  • Is she tackling issues head on? If she comes across a problem, is she using her available resources (company manuals, management, superior team members) to conquer her issues or is she unfortunately sweeping the issues under the rug?

  • Does he actively engage in his job and the office? Is he a team player who is eagerly trying to meet his colleagues while still performing his job?

  • Is she on time and eager to do her job the way it’s supposed to be done?

  • Is his work correct and is he as efficient as he should be given his prior experience and skill level?

All of these can help you determine whether or not you’ve made the right hire, and hopefully you have — for both of your sakes. However, if she doesn’t seem to be “getting it” in the amount of time you deem necessary, you may need to make the tough decision of replacing her with your “runner-up.” It’s not uncommon, and sometimes it’s not always the fault of the candidate, per se. Now is the time to make your decision: are the issues coming up things that could be helped along by additional training, or should you cut your losses quickly and move on to the next candidate?